The International Motorsports Hall of Fame (IMHOF) is both National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) founder Bill France's tribute to the legends of motorsport racing and a museum to preserve the sport's history. Located next to the Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega County, about 50 miles east of Birmingham, the hall has been inducting members since 1990, and in 2007 the list of inductees contained more than 120 names.
France founded NASCAR in 1944 and served as its president from 1949-1972. In the late 1960s, with the help of his friend and political ally, Gov. George Wallace (France headed the fundraising effort for Wallace's 1972 presidential campaign), France built the Alabama International Motor Speedway (now Talladega Superspeedway), the largest, fastest race track in the world at 2.66 miles around. Soon, France and speedway director Don Naman formed plans for the first hall of fame for motorsports, the goal being a "museum and hall of fame to preserve the history of motorsports and honor those who had contributed to its growth." During the next few years, France gathered support from state and national interests, and in 1975, Gov. Wallace established an 18-member commission to oversee the creation of the hall of fame and museum. After a state bond issue to finance construction of the facility failed to pass, France donated 35 acres next to Talladega Superspeedway for the project, and other private and public funds were raised to complete construction under the leadership of Alabama state senator Richard Dial. Total costs came to about $2 million.
The museum, which was the project's first phase, opened in early 1983 and included two exhibit halls, a rotunda, International Speedway Corporation (France's NASCAR corporation) offices, and ancillary spaces. One exhibit room, the "Daytona Room," focuses on the racing culture of France's Daytona, Florida, holdings. The other exhibit hall, called the "International Room," contains memorabilia relating to a variety of different motorsports. The 15,000 square-foot hall of fame addition opened during a July 1990 ceremony in which the 20 charter members were inducted. Other collections housed at the facility include the 14,000-volume McCaig-Wellborn Motorsports Research Library, as well as the Alabama Racing Pioneers Hall of Fame, Alabama Sports Writer's Hall of Fame, the Auto Custom Carpets Hall of Fame, the Automobile Racing Club of America Hall of Fame, the Quarter Midgets of America Hall of Fame, the Western Auto Mechanics Hall of Fame, and the World Karting Hall of Fame. Exhibits include the twisted remains of spectacular crashes, as well as legendary racing vehicles such as the Budweiser Rocket Car that first broke the sound barrier on land, and the 1985 Ford Thunderbird driven by Bill Elliott in 1985 when he broke the record for fastest 500-mile race finish, averaging 186.288 miles per hour.
The hall of fame panel consists of 150 members of the motorsports racing media, and potential inductees must have been retired from racing for at least five years. Today the IMHOF is funded mainly on the strength of admission fees to about 100,000 visitors per year, who take self-guided tours of the museum and hall of fame, as well as tours of the Talladega Superspeedway next door.
Published February 23, 2009
Last updated May 16, 2011